Friday, September 04, 2009

Newsletter and a quick update

I think I've finally just accepted that I can't keep up with the blog.

For all those who have been following my life and work in Bremen through this site, thank you for checking in, especially when I haven't been good about updating regularly. Your comments and prayers have meant so much to me! I know that God hears and answers the prayers that you offer.

The short version of my current situation:

I've been busy meeting and reading in the Bible with various contacts and am still teaching the 4- to 6-year old Sunday School class. Next weekend is the European Singles Retreat, and I'm part of the team planning it. I've also started helping Elsa with preparations for the ETM (Evangelism Training and Media) course that will begin in a few weeks. I'm so glad that this training program designed by Jim is continuing! It's a great opportunity for Christians to strengthen their prayer lives and to pinpoint which gifts God's given them and how they can better use those gifts for God's glory.

After much prayer and consideration I've decided to continue my work in Bremen. God has blessed me immensely in my time here and has given me opportunities to teach and to serve. Summit church of Christ in Cold Spring, Kentucky, has agreed to fill the role of my sponsoring congregation, and September marks the official beginning of my working relationship with them.

As part of my working agreement with Summit, I will be sending out monthly newsletters. If you did not get the one that I sent on August 27th but would like to receive it and future newsletters, please let me know. If you don't have my email address, you can post a comment here with your email address, and I'll add you to my list. (I moderate all comments, so only I will see what you write. I don't post comments that contain personal information.) If you DID receive the newsletter from last week, you're on my address list and should receive my newsletter each month. Please let me know if you don't receive it at some point.

Thank you again for all of your prayers and encouraging comments! May the Lord bless you in your work for Him. And for those in the States: Enjoy the holiday weekend! :)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Dear Mom

Twenty-seven years ago today, my mom endured 12 hours of agony.

And she did it for me.

Thanks, Mom, for bringing me into the world. Thanks for being my mom and for putting up with me for the past 27 years! I know I've caused you more than a few moments of grief over the years.

Thanks for all the times you've gone without something yourself so that we kids could have it instead. Thanks for teaching me to be thrifty so that my money goes as far as possible. Thanks for encouraging me to be creative. Thanks for supporting me in all of my after-school activities growing up and for coming to all of my school plays and choir concerts. Thanks for cheering me on during my softball games, even when I just picked dandelions in the outfield and when I was too petrified to swing when I was at bat.

Thanks for loving me.

Love you, Mom, and thanks for giving me a birthday to celebrate.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Finally, an update

Well, now that it’s been 6 months since I last wrote, it’s probably about time to update.

There’s been a lot going on over the past few months. Elsa and I are still meeting with Kai and Rainer once a week for an English Bible study, which has been going very well. They both seem to be interested in what we’re reading together in the Gospel of Mark and have been asking lots of great – but sometimes difficult! – questions.

I’m also still teaching the Sunday School class for the 3- to 5-year olds. I’ve really been enjoying this group. They love to do craft projects, and I have fun coming up with ideas for crafts that fit the story we’re learning. We’re working our way through the stories of the Old Testament and slowly memorizing the books of the New Testament.

I also continue to meet with Ludmilla and Jessica about once a week. Ludmilla will be going to the U.S. at the end of July to work for a year as an au pair. Please pray for her as she has her visa appointment at the U.S. embassy in Berlin today. Please also pray for Jessica as she’s been having some health problems and will have to have surgery in a few weeks. Please pray that God will work through me during this time to help her see the hope and love that He offers.

In mid-May we hosted a ladies’ tea, which went very well and was well-attended. We enjoyed cake, coffee, and tea with friends, neighbors, and other contacts, and Elsa spoke on the topic, “Woman: Exactly what was missing.” I guess it sounds like it could have been a feminist presentation, but she talked about God’s purpose in creating women and the struggles we have in accepting the qualities He’s given us and in using them for His glory. It was a very appropriate topic for the group, and Elsa did a great job in both preparing and presenting her thoughts. We held a similar ladies’ tea last year, and it seems as if it’s going to become an annual event.

Last week nine of us from Bremen attended the annual ladies’ retreat in Neckarzimmern, Germany. Neckarzimmern is a tiny town about 25 miles southeast of Heidelberg, and it’s in a beautiful region of the country. This year the retreat was attended by about 60 women from four congregations in Switzerland and at least nine congregations in Germany. The women from the Wuerzburg congregation did a fantastic job planning things this year, and it seemed to me that everyone had a very uplifting week. This is the third time I’ve attended this retreat, and each time it gets a little easier because I’m slowly getting to know many of the women who come year after year. And, as a bonus, I’m learning to understand Swiss German. :)

The first half of this year has been personally difficult for me. Right before Christmas my grandfather was diagnosed with leukemia, and the treatments they tried resulted in the leukemia coming back even stronger. In mid-January he was sent home on hospice care, and the doctors said he might live 3 days or as long as 3 weeks. He has astounded everyone, however, and is still alive. The doctors basically expected that he would get some sort of infection from which he wouldn’t be able to recover, but that just hasn’t happened. The leukemia is slowly taking over his body, leaving him unable to feel his legs at all, and he’s becoming weaker every day.

In early January, my mom’s step-mother, Mae, (other side of the family) was diagnosed with cancer in both her brain and spine. My grandmother died of cancer in 2000, so this was difficult for the whole family. Despite radiation treatments and much prayer, Mae succumbed to the cancer at the beginning of April, leaving my grandfather a widower for the second time.

Dealing with all of this from over 4,000 miles away has been one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do since coming to Bremen. How do you grieve with your family when you’re separated by an ocean?

Then, on the day of Mae’s funeral, someone stole mail out of my mailbox. My parents had sent me some mail that had arrived at their house for me, including some bank statements and information I needed for filing my taxes, and only one letter from the larger envelope was in my mailbox – opened and with no German address. The one positive out of the whole situation: I now know how to file a police report in Bremen. (Though I hope I never have to use that knowledge again!) Because of the content of the mail that was missing, I had to close my bank account, which led to many other hassles in getting billing information changed. Everything seems to have worked out okay, but it was all very frustrating.

Also in April I was blessed with the chance to go to the States. It had been about 16 months since my last visit, and with all that has been happening in my family, I felt a need to go. I also had been looking for an opportunity to report on the work in Bremen, so this was a good chance to do that as well. I really enjoyed the time with family, and I was able to give a presentation at my parents’ congregation about the work I’ve been doing. The missions committee at College church (my sponsoring congregation) also made time to meet with me, so I went to Searcy, Arkansas, for a whirlwind trip. It was so great to see so many friends and former co-workers! My meeting with the missions committee went well, too, and I appreciated the opportunity to thank them for their support and to show pictures and talk about all that God’s doing here.

The two weeks went by so fast, and I really wish I’d been able to visit with more people. This was the first time I’ve made a trip like this, and it really showed me the importance of planning annual (or at least biennial) trips for the purpose of reporting. Besides helping me fulfill my responsibility to report on my work here, it was a tremendous boost to my spirits. On the mission field there’s the danger of thinking that people have forgotten about you. This trip showed me, however, that people think about and pray for me regularly and that they are very interested in what I’m doing in Bremen. Thank you for that! Knowing that you care about me and my work here means the world to me. I also realize that I do not do a very good job of reporting regularly and that perhaps if I did I would not have the sense sometimes that I’ve been forgotten. I’m making an effort to change that.

There’s much more I’d like to say, but this post is already so long that it will have to wait for later. Topic of the next post: my plans for the future. Stay tuned. Thanks again for all of your thoughts and prayers and for continuing to check in on me. Gott mit euch!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

A few prayer requests...and some great news!

Is it really December already?!

I arrived safely in Bremen on Tuesday after a wonderful visit to Chemnitz. Next time I'll write more about the trip, but for tonight I'm going to keep this (hopefully) short. I'm fighting the beginnings of a sinus infection and hope to get to bed early tonight.

Okay, the news first...*drum roll please*...My residency permit was renewed yesterday! Yay! Now I am legal again. :) My old permit expired on the 1st, and I had a strange feeling on Tuesday knowing that I was technically illegally in the country. I guess if something had happened and someone needed to see my passport, I could have shown them the letter from the foreigners' office with the information about my appointment. Anyway, I'm very thankful that everything went smoothly with the renewal.

And now for the prayer requests:

1) On Monday Elsa met with Kai (Rainer couldn't come) for the weekly English Bible study, and from what Elsa has said, it was a very good study. Please pray for Kai and Rainer as they continue to read in God's Word that what they are reading might become more personal for them. They seem to be very curious and are asking some very good, thoughtful questions, which shows us they're thinking. It would be great to see them begin to apply what we're reading to their own lives.

2) My friend Sujin went to Bangkok a couple weeks ago to begin mission work with a congregation there. I'm sure you've heard or read about all the trouble that has gone on there over the past couple weeks with the protests at the airports, and Sujin has asked for prayers. I know things have settled down since the premier resigned, but please remember Sujin and the church in Bangkok in your prayers. I'm sure Sujin was not expecting a political crisis to occur just a week after she arrived in Thailand.

3) Another friend, Teresa, and her husband, Craig, work with the church in Mumbai, India. Please pray for them and the church there as the city recovers from the attacks last week.

I think that's about it. I'll share more about my Chemnitz trip in the next couple days. Thanks for checking in on me and for your prayers for me and the work in Bremen, as well as for the others I've mentioned. Also, please let me know if there is anything I can pray about for you. God bless, and I pray you are staying warm wherever you are!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

First of all, I pray that all of you in the U.S. have a safe and happy Thanksgiving. God is good, and He has blessed us richly, even when it's tempting to think about the financial crisis, higher food and energy costs, and whatever aches and pains we might happen to have today and to wonder what we have to be thankful for.

This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it....Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

- Psalm 118:24, 29

Just the fact that God has given us another day to spend with family and friends and, more importantly, to use for His glory, is something to be thankful for. That, of course, is to say nothing about what God has done for us through His Son. May we not need a holiday to remind us to be thankful.

So, there's my sermonette for the day. :)

Today I'm going to Chemnitz to visit Mark and Karen as well as several other people. Between ETM in the spring and then the Singles' Retreat, I feel like I know half of the congregation in Chemnitz. I plan to come back to Bremen on Tuesday. I'm really looking forward to this trip and the opportunity to spend some time with friends.

Elsa and I have done more work at her house over the past week. Jim's office is slowly becoming Elsa's office, and we are in general cleaning out unneeded things throughout the house. I think it's hard for Elsa sometimes because of the emotional connection to Jim, but she seems to be happy that she's able to better use the space and resources she has.

I'm also starting a new project: translating the notes from the seminar on the Holy Spirit we had recently. I don't think it will take too long (there are five pages, single-spaced in outline form), but I'm looking forward to it. I'm thinking I could maybe work as a translator because I really enjoy it. At least from German into English. :) I can't write well enough in German yet to be able to translate adequately in the other direction.

Yes, we did get a couple inches of snow last Friday. It was a bit strange to get snow this early, especially when Bremen only had one real snowfall last year, and that was right around Christmas. I wonder what this means for the rest of the winter.

I pray you have a wonderful holiday if you are in the States and a wonderful day at work/school if you are not. :) Today and every day I am thankful for you and for your support and following of my work in Bremen. Gott mit Euch!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Our new brother and other recent goings-on

Well, I've missed my goal of weekly updates. I guess, though, that two and a half weeks is better than eight. We're making progress.

Today would have been Jim's 66th birthday. Even though it's not his first birthday since his death, my mood has been rather pensive today, and I know I'm not the only one who would say that. It's still hard to believe he's been gone for over a year. Please pray for Elsa, Diana, and Karin today.

Juergen's baptism two Sundays ago was an amazing experience. I have never met anyone else so convinced and sure in their faith at the time of their baptism as Juergen. Mark and Karen came into town for the day (Did I ever mention that they moved to Chemnitz at the end of August???), and Mark was the one who baptized him. When Mark asked Juergen if he believes that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died for our sins and rose again, Juergen responded (my translation), "I am completely convinced of it." After the baptism, Juergen said a few words, acknowledging his new faith and how he came to this point, as well as thanking a number of people who God had used to guide and help him along the way. Most touching were his words to Simone, his wife, thanking her for the spiritual example she has set for him. Please pray for Juergen as he begins his life with the Lord and that he might stand strong against Satan's attacks.

The last weekend of October we had a gospel meeting with Josef Achatz of Augsburg. We had a number of guests, including a few who came to both sessions and then also to church on Sunday. Then last Saturday, Glenn Jones from Kiel came to town and conducted a seminar on the Holy Spirit. That seems to be one of those topics that we just generally avoid talking too much about, probably because there's so much about it that we don't seem to be able to wrap our human minds around. Glenn provided us with five pages of excellent notes and very helpful Scripture references, though it was a bit much to absorb in one day. A number of us walked away at the end of the day planning to study the subject further at home. I am very thankful that Glenn and his wife Angelika took the time and effort to come. It was good to see them again.

Elsa and I recently reexamined the work that I'm doing, as well as my weekly schedule. As I started thinking about the different things I've done over the past months, I realized that I've essentially been in response mode since Jim died. For the most part, I've reacted to whatever situation has come up and done what I could to help. I've been helping Elsa clean out and organize things at home. I helped with preparations for the campaign and then worked with the campaigners while they were here. After the campaign Elsa and I began meeting with those who wanted to continue studying and finding ways to maintain contact with those who didn't. The new goal is for me to be proactive in planning my activities. I've scaled back on meeting with several people, and we're making finishing the organization of Jim's library a priority. I'm working on the library from 9 to ca. 12 (or sometimes 1:30 or 2...) Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, and Mondays Elsa and I are taking a few hours to "weed" falling-apart, outdated, or just plain unneeded books from the collection. In the past two weeks we've gotten rid of over 230 books. It's great that books can be put on the curb with other paper to be picked up for recycling.

Elsa has also given me the task of at least once a week either visiting someone or inviting someone to visit me. These visits are not supposed to be the same as regular Bible studies that we've already scheduled but instead chances to just talk and get to know each other better. I have no problem visiting other people; asking people to visit me, though, is more difficult. Part of it has to do with my lingering perfectionism (which I've come a long way in battling) that says my apartment needs to be spotless before someone can come to visit me. Another thing is just my issue of needing to protect my personal space and feeling that that space is invaded if someone comes into my home. Don't get me wrong, a number of people have been to my apartment for Bible studies; Stefanie has come over a couple times to watch movies; and Mark and Karen were here several times while they lived in Bremen. It's just that each time someone comes I get stressed out, though it gets easier the more often a particular person comes. I think it may also have something to do with living alone. Who knows. Anyway, I'm working on it. :) I realized that Elsa had not even been to my apartment since right after I moved in (while her house is basically my second home; I don't even knock when I arrive but just use my key to go in). So, I invited her over for lunch recently as my first "guest" since starting this new "visit project." We had lots of good conversation and she even survived my cooking! Success. So, I'm in the process of making other appointments for people to come over.

We still have two men coming to our weekly English Bible studies. We've switched from studying John to reading Mark because John's Gospel was becoming too theological. Jim had no trouble explaining complicated theological issues, and let's just say that Elsa and I are not Jim. So, we've switched approaches to something that better fits our teaching and discussion styles. Kai and Rainer still seem to be very interested in what we're reading and are starting to compare and contrast what we're reading with what the state church teaches and what German society tends to think and believe. It's made for some wonderful discussions. Please pray for their continued interest in the Word and for their hearts to be opened to what they're reading.

My residency permit expires on December 1st, and I have an appointment at the Foreigners' Office on the 3rd to renew it. PLEASE PRAY THAT THIS GOES SMOOTHLY. Elsa doesn't expect there to be any problems, but it's hard for me to be so confident when dealing with bureaucracy. I'm trying to leave it in God's hands. I prayed extensively about my decision to stay for another year, and I'm certain it is God's will for me to still be here. If that's true, then the renewal should be approved because I can't legally stay without it. I guess I could always just take a trip to Switzerland for a few days and then come back to Bremen as a "tourist" for 3 months and start the process over again. :)

Please also be praying for me to have wisdom in making a few decisions before my appointment to renew my permit. I need to be able to tell them what I plan to do here in Bremen, and my role here has changed a lot since I first came and since Jim died. I really don't want to say anything more about it right now because I'm still figuring things out, but please pray for me to make wise decisions.

Thank you for all of your thoughts and prayers! Please keep them coming and let me know if there's anything specific I can pray about for you. I hope you're staying warm wherever you are (we may get some snow here tomorrow night!) and that you're not dealing with the colds, bronchitis, and stomach bugs that have been going around here. So far this autumn I have battled some sinus issues, which is normal for me, but have otherwise remained thankfully healthy. God bless you, and enjoy the rest of your week!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Good news!

I need to head to bed so I can get up early to work at Elsa's, so I'll try to post a fuller update tomorrow, but for now I wanted to share some REALLY good news.

Jürgen, who has been reading through the Bible for most of this year and who has been studying with Rüdiger over the past couple months, has decided to take on the Lord in baptism. His wife, Simone, was baptized at the end of December last year. He started coming to church off and on earlier this year and for the past couple months has been coming regularly. We are all naturally thrilled that he has made the decision, both for what it means for his life and because we are gaining a new brother. Simone, who generally is a very upbeat person as it is, was practically floating this morning. :)

The baptism is planned for next Sunday, and Mark and Karen will be coming to town from Chemnitz for it. Please pray for Jürgen that he might have the strength to live the life that accompanies this decision and that he will continue to study and to grow in his relationship with the Lord.

Thanks for your continued prayers for me and for the congregation here. Enjoy your Sunday (and the extra hour of sleep if you're in the U.S.). We turned the clocks back last weekend. All who know me well know that I always appreciate any chance to sleep a bit longer. :) Gott mit Dir!